The UK’s Booker Prize for Fiction Names Its 2022 Shortlist

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Half the shortlisted books for the £50,000 Booker Prize for Fiction are from independent publishers. The winner will be known October 17.

Booker Prize for Fiction 2022 shortlisted authors are, upper row from left, NoViolet Bulawayo (image: NyeLynTho); Percival Everett (image: Nacho Goberna); and Alan Garner (image: David Heke). And on the lower row, from left: Shehan Karunatilaka; Claire Keegan (image: Frederic Stucin); and Elizabeth Strout (image: Leonard Cendamo). All images provided by the Booker Prize Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Also today: British Academy Book Prize Announces Its 2022 Shortlist

MacGregor: ‘The Power of Finding and Sharing the Truth’
As we’d touched on in our longlist article for the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction in July, a couple of readily recognized distinctions were included in that longlist and now are visible in the shortlist announced this evening (September 6) at London’s Serpentine Pavilion.

For one, the aptly titled Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan—only 116 pages in length—has made it through, and is now the briefest read ever shortlisted for the prize. The slimmest volume to actually win the Booker in the past was Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. It won at 132 pages in 1979.

And the shortest read joins the longest-lived author on this list, as Alan Garner approaches his 88th birthday, which will fall on October 17—the date on which the Booker‘s winner is announced. His Treacle Walker is shortlisted.

Beyond those points of brevity and longevity, however, there are subtler points about this sextet of books drawn from an initial pool of 169 submissions, particularly a deployment of humor to deal with direly serious issues. And most of these works have to do with real-life events. And as Shahidha Bari said in a news conference earlier in the day, humor factors into even some of the darkest elements of the literature here.

“You think of a book like the Percival Everett (The Trees)–which is mordantly funny, bleakly comic–but it could not be about a more serious thing than the murder of Emmett Till,” the Black 14-year-old who was kidnapped, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi in August 1955. “In that case, we were rewarding a book that uses humor as a strategy to make sense of something enormously painful and difficult.

“And that’s why that book is on that list. There’s a place for pleasure in reading of course, we always keep that in mind, as well as the deep seriousness and gravity. It’s a tremendous book for that reason.”

Most of these works have to do with real-life events, some of them atrocities. Percival Everett’s The Trees, for example, is based on the unspeakable torture and lynching in Mississippi of young Emmett Till in August 1955. And yet, as jurors said in a news conference earlier in the day, humor braces even some of the darkest elements of that book and others on this shortlist.

The 2022 award cycle is being juried by chair Neil MacGregor, who made tonight’s announcement. He has been joined by a panel comprising Helen Castor, Alain Mabanckou, M John Harrison, and Shahidha Bari.

Neil MacGregor at tonight’s shortlist announcement for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Image: Booker Prize Foundation video

In a prepared statement, MacGregor says, that  in each of the six titles selected for the shortlist, “The author uses language not only to tell us what happens, but to create a world which we, outsiders, can enter and inhabit—and not merely by using words from local languages or dialects.

“NoViolet Bulawayo’s incantatory repetitions induct us all into a Zimbabwean community of memory and expectation, just as Alan Garner’s shamanic obliquities conjure a realm that reason alone could never access. Percival Everett and Shehan Karunatilaka spin fantastical verbal webs of Gothic horror—and humor—that could not be further removed from the hypnotic, hallucinatory clarity of Claire Keegan’s and Elizabeth Strout’s pared-down prose.

“Most important, all affirm the importance and the power of finding and sharing the truth.”

The Booker Prize Foundation director, Gaby Wood, “When this year’s Booker Prize judges sat down to decide on their shortlist, every one of the 13 books on their longlist remained in such strong contention that they knew the meeting was likely to last all day. And indeed it did. This was not a day of arguments but of re-readings, reconfigurations, relish.

“The shortlist that eventually emerged shows great geographical breadth as well as linguistic and conceptual agility. Together, these six novels look at history and at the lives of individuals with wit, courage, and rage, allowing us to see the world through many sets of supremely perceptive eyes.”

Booker Prize for Fiction 2022 Shortlist

Image: Booker Prize Foundation

Author Nationality Title Publisher, Imprint
NoViolet Bulawayo Zimbabwean Glory Penguin Random House, Vintage, Chatto & Windus
Percival Everett American The Trees Influx Press
Alan Garner British Treacle Walker  HarperCollins, Fourth Estate
Shehan Karunatilaka Sri Lankan The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida Sort of Books
Claire Keegan Irish Small Things Like These  Faber & Faber
Elizabeth Strout American Oh William! Penguin Random House, Penguin General, Vintage
UK Publishers Say They’re Ready for Reader Interest

In speaking with members of the news media—and amid some of the printing and supply chain issues encountered in many world book industry markets—Wood today said that she has conferred with publishers of the longlist and that they tell her they’ll have enough inventory to handle the demand for the shortlisted books on the shortlist introduced tonight. There were some cases, it seems, around the release of the longlist, when some consumers in the United Kingdom reported having trouble finding copies of some of the 13 longlisted works.

At London’s Serpentine Pavilion tonight (September 6), Booker Prize Foundation director Gaby Wood speaks to the audience. Standing with her are, from left, jurors Helen Castor, Shahidha Bari, and chair Neil MacGregor. Image: Booker Prize Foundation

She did make the good point that when a strong longlist is announced, the program’s required secrecy means that retailers can’t be prepared for books on that list. By contrast, when a shortlist arrives, the longlist has created an opportunity for better preparation.

Wood also confirmed that the foundation intends to carry on with the “Booker Prize” name, although Booker no longer funds the program. The name is, of course, quite iconic in its recognition as the world’s peak brand for professional literary competition and the American foundation Crankstart is not interested, she said, in having its name on the prize.

The Booker Prize Foundation is in the process of developing a deeper in-house capacity for its media messaging and outreach efforts, perhaps an early signal of this being the development of the social-media-generating book club contest program with  the Reading Agency, as you might recall from our July 13 report.

For our internationalist readership, the Booker Prize for Fiction is not to be confused, of course, with the International Booker Prize, which is focused on translation.

In each shortlisted book, “The author uses language not only to tell us what happens, but to create a world which we, outsiders, can enter and inhabit—and not merely by using words from local languages or dialects.”Neil MacGregor

The winner of this, the primary award in the Booker Foundation’s work, receives £50,000 (US$57,989). Each of the six authors eventually shortlisted is to receive £2,500 (US$2,899) and a specially bound edition of her or his book.

As you’ll recall, the South African author Damon Galgut won the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction for The Promise. In the United Kingdom, the book is published by Penguin Random House/Chatto & Windus. In the United States, it’s published by Europa Editions. In today’s media messaging, the Booker Prize Foundation says that the book’s translation rights have been sold into at least 35 languages and territories.

The October award ceremony for the Booker Prize for Fiction is to be held at the Roundhouse in London and to be broadcast live as part of a Front Row special on BBC Radio 4 from 9:15 to 10:00 p.m. BST (20:15 to 21:00 p.m. GMT), with television coverage expected to run on BBC News at Ten and news channels.

Here is video from tonight’s Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist announcement at the Serpentine.

This is the 155th awards-related report that Publishing Perspectives has carried in the 164 days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Booker Prize for Fiction is here. More on the International Booker Prize is here, more from Publishing Perspectives on both Booker Prize programs is here. And more from us on the international industry’s many book and publishing awards programs overall is here

And more on the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.